Monday, June 27, 2016

Favorite Childhood TV Shows: #1-4 (Brady Bunch, Full House, Mr. Rogers, Fun House)

Years It Aired: 1969-1974
Years I Was Into It: Mid-to-late 80's
There's a perfectly good reason why I subjected myself to the TV-movie The Brady Bunch In The White House last year: I used to like The Brady Bunch... a lot. Sure, it's as corny as hell, the morality lessons are as subtle as an elephant in a train station, and the fashions will make you go blind. But I didn't care back then. As a kid, I spent many afternoons watching Brady reruns, enjoying the adventures of Cindy, Bobby, and the rest of the family.

I'm not sure I ever figured out (on my own, at least) that this was a show that had been canceled long before I was even born... that I was watching a show my parents could've been into as teenagers. (Actually, I think they both hated the show, but whatever.) The fashions? I wore them in the early 80's. The shag carpeting and tacky furniture? I was all-too-familiar with that. Check out pictures of my old house if you don't believe me. Okay, maybe my life wasn't as orangey-tacky as the Bradys', but it never occurred to me they were from another era. All I saw were kids who had wacky adventures, whose problems were neatly solved in 30 minutes or less.

Last year, I was babysitting for a 7-year-old girl who got to watch one hour of TV a day. Out of all the options available to her on the glorious invention that is satellite TV, one of her daily TV choices was Brady Bunch reruns. Once I joined her for a viewing. I found myself laughing at the jokes and Brady hi-jinks. It's been nearly 40 years since the show premiered, and it's still entertaining people of all ages. The Bradys, like it or not, will live on.

Far out. 

Years It Aired: 1987-1995
Years I Was Into It: 1990-

Full House entered my life when I was 8 or 9. Some of the other girls in my class watched it regularly, and they would come to school talking about the jokes, the quotes, the music, and the plots. I didn't watch the show. I was the girl with the 8 o'clock bedtime. But when it went into syndication a few years later, I caught episodes here and there. And as my bedtime increased to 8:30, I even got to see some of the newer ones.

The summer I turned 12, I got really into it. When the 1992 season premier rolled around, I was looking forward to it like nobody's business. That was the episode where Stephanie and Michelle accidentally flew to New Zealand. I remember that because there was a picture in our local TV guide of Stephanie and Michelle in the plane going "Aughhh!" I was also super excited to see how they'd change the theme song pictures. See, every season, the actors would smile at the camera in a new way during the theme song. Okay, so the adults' smiles didn't always change year-to-year, but the kids' did. Hmmm, what will D.J. be doing this year? Will she put on her lipstick? Will she talk on the phone? THE SUSPENSE IS KILLING ME!

I can't think of any show I was more in love with from the ages of 11&1/2 to 13&1/2 than Full House. I used to imagine the future reunion show... What will the Tanners be doing in 10 years? Although I wasn't quite as obsessed during its final season, I still watched most of the episodes. Afterwards, I made it my goal to watch any TV-movie or film with one of the cast members. This is how I found myself in a theater watching It Takes Two, starring the Olsen Twins. (For what it's worth, it's a good movie. Really!)

For years I watched the show in syndication. I saw many of the episodes multiple times. There are certain ones I love -- the episodes where the Tanners go to Disney World, for instance. There are episodes I can't stand -- pretty much any episode where Michelle thinks Uncle Jesse is mean and doesn't like her anymore. 

When the show was released on DVD, I made good use of my Netflix account and began watching them in order. It's funny; sometimes when I watch episodes from season 2, 3, and 4 I can clearly remember snippets of conversations from my fellow elementary school classmates. How they sang Beach Boys songs on the playground after one or more of the Beach-Boy-cameo episodes had aired. How they envied D.J. the time she got $20 from a bewildered tooth fairy. How I had no idea who the heck they were talking about, but I wasn't about to admit it.

Some people think the show was corny... yes, it could be. Some think it was overly-sentimental... sure, sometimes. But I liked it then and I like it now. Maybe I just like sentimentality and silliness. Maybe Full House just my kind of show.

And I'm still waiting for that reunion movie. 

(2018 update: Ugh, WHY?)

Years It Aired: 1968-2001
Years I Was Into It: 1985-1992


When I was really little, I didn't have a choice in what I watched on television... my parents would turn on the TV and wrench the dial to the appropriate channel. As I got older, I'd assert my independence by sneaking downstairs on Saturday mornings and sitting through five hours of cartoons. But at age five, my parents had control -- and one of them, I forget who, introduced me to Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.

Rewatching some of the old episodes, it's clear to me why I didn't object to this choice. Mr. Rogers was a great show for little kids. It was predictable to a point -- Mr. Rogers followed certain routines every day, which kids at that age tend to appreciate. Mr. Rogers would always start off the show with the same song. He'd change from a sports coat into a sweater and he'd change his shoes. He'd feed his pet fish and take us to the land of Make-Believe for some puppet action. But would we travel there by trolley, or would he get out the toy models instead? (And how cool was it that he had an actual trolley running through his house?)

In the end, he'd sing a song -- typically one song in particular -- bid us goodbye, and leave. Which didn't make a lot of sense, because if this was his house, why was he leaving? Where was he going? I thought he slept here! Okay, so there's no bedroom. Maybe he has two homes! Maybe he has a mistress! Maybe.....

Sure, sometimes Mr. Rogers seemed a bit creepy. He'd address the children at home via the camera, speaking to us, asking us questions. I remember when I first began watching the show, I thought Mr. Rogers really could see me, because it seemed like no matter where I moved in the room, his eyes followed me. I'm still not convinced they don't. The puppets in the Land of Make-Believe were a huge step down from the puppets I was used to watching (Muppets); their mouths didn't even move! And they had lame names! And Lady Elaine Fairchild was the freakiest-looking thing in puppet history! But still, they amused me.

Aside from the trolley, the fish, and the land of Make-Believe, Mr. Rogers's day often included visitors to his home, including the postman Mr. McFeely, who'd deliver messages. Sometimes Mr. Rogers would pay a visit elsewhere, including trips to factories where things like graham crackers or crayons were produced. These were special events because few people get to see what goes on behind factory doors... and for me, especially, these were mesmerizing segments. Even when Mr. Rogers didn't go anywhere and didn't have visitors, he'd make things interesting in his home. He might make a simple craft; he might do some sort of science demonstration using sand or water. Everything he did was simple, but he made it sound like it was the most exciting thing in the world.

Like many other shows of my childhood, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood encouraged creativity. I was all about that. But he also made you feel good. He sang songs about how we were special. Sometimes, even now, I listen to his songs, and for a second I really believe it. I am special... because Mr. Rogers says so, dammit!

Years It Aired: 1988-1991
Years I Was Into It: 1988-1990

In the late 80s and early 90s, weekday afternoon television was pretty fantastic. In between DuckTales, Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego, Square One TV, and the occasional rerun of Small Wonder, there was this zany, exciting, oft-messy game show called Fun House.

Each day, two teams of kids would compete for a chance to run through a prize-tag-filled fun house. The first round of competitions involved trivia and doing messy or goofy tasks, like trying to run with slimy balloons or building each other into foam sandwiches. The second round featured a race around a track, where one teammate would often push the other in some kind of cart, they would try to collect things for points.

Those rounds were all fine and good. But they were nothing compared to to the end result, the grand finale, the place every kid wished she could live...


In the Fun House round, the team with the highest score in the earlier rounds got 2 minutes to run through a multi-level construction filled with booby traps, barriers, and goop, trying to collect prize tags. The players had to go one at a time, and each person could only take 3 tags per trip (before having to trade out with the other player). Those 2 minutes went by fast, so while more adept teams could often score 6-7 tags, some teams got fewer. The prizes were things any kid between 10 and 14 could want: TVs, stereos, walkmen, bikes, trips to Disney World... and cash, beautiful cash.

Evolving over time, the Fun House seemed to get better and better. I remember a rotating tube they could crawl through. A room filled with balloons they had to push or pop past. A room with shower doors, where some were locked and some weren't -- thereby turning it into a maze. Later in the show's run, there was a water slide that dropped you into a pool.

My younger brother and I loved Fun House so much, we tried constructing our own interpretation in the basement... but we only got as far as the balloons and a hastily-made tunnel. We made lofty plans to apply for the show together, as soon as both of us were old enough (you had to be at least 10.) Unfortunately, it was canceled more than a year before he reached that age.

In 1990, Fun House went into syndication and moved to another channel -- our local FOX affiliate, which our TV only barely received. This was devastating. It was worse than if the show had been outright canceled, because we knew it was airing -- we just couldn't see much more than than gray static. Maybe a red arm here, a glint of a giant foam sandwich there... And so, sadly, we moved on.

J.D. Roth, Fun House's young, spunky, red-headed host would not be forgotten. I saw his name appear as producer on The Biggest Loser recently. I picture him looking just like he did 20 years ago. It's quite comical, actually. And when I see his name, I remember the fun house, the waterslide, the race track, the stunts... and I smile. Every kid should have a show like Fun House -- a legendary, messy, all-kinds-of-awesome weekday afternoon show. 

The above TV show profiles were written in 2008 and published on my old website

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